In the winter of 2010, the New Haven Police Department raided the night club Elevate & Alchemy during a Yale party, tasering a member of the football team and arresting five students. The episode sparked outrage on Yale’s campus, raising tension between students and the police.
One of the arrested students was Steven Winter ’11, who was charged with disorderly conduct. The charge was eventually dropped.
On Tuesday, Winter — now a 28-year-old resident of Prospect Hill — was elected Ward 21 alder as an independent, upsetting the Democratic candidate and casting into doubt the plans of fellow independent and Ward 1 victor Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 to serve as minority leader on the Board of Alders. As alder, Winter hopes to promote community policing. He said the Elevate raid was his first experience of the police’s “lack of accountability.”
“That was a really eye-opening experience for me about policing and about how the police use their power not always fairly, particularly with certain populations in the city,” Winter said.
Following the raid, Winter joined Yale students and community members to march on police headquarters. According to Winter, the action helped activists make headway in holding the police accountable. He hopes to take that action to the next level as alder by pushing for a civilian review board that would have subpoena power and the ability to recommend disciplinary action.
Winter pulled off an upset victory over Democratic nominee and Ward 21 Democratic co-chair Rodney Williams, winning by 234 votes to 180 to secure the seat. In an interview with the News, Winter said his victory in Ward 21 — which contains portions of Newhallville and East Rock — was a result of “diligent outreach work”: knocking on doors, as well as getting to know neighbors and their priorities.
Although he was the Democratic nominee, Williams said, nobody from the Democratic Party supported his campaign. He called Winter’s win a “victory for the union,” referring to UNITE HERE — the umbrella union that represents Yale unions Local 33, 34 and 35 and that enjoys broad support on the Board of Alders.
“They didn’t want me on the Board of Aldermans because I’m not a union person,” Williams said. “I’m a community person.”
Winter, a former Rhode Island resident, moved to New Haven in 2007 to attend Yale. A member of Pierson College, Winter majored in philosophy and was involved in entrepreneurship and environmentalism. During his time as a Yalie, Winter helped kick-start two startups: BlueFusion, a company that encouraged stronger political outreach, and One Button Wenzel, a website that delivered Wenzels at the click of a button.
On the environmental scene, Winter was a part of the Yale Students Environmental Coalition and worked for the University to educate students about environmental practices.
“I’ve always been really interested in environmentalism, particularly working on climate action and climate policy,” Winter said.
Winter lives with his wife, Emily, in Ward 21 on Prospect Hill. When he was a student at Yale, he started a small painting company in New Haven. But soon after he graduated, his wife was diagnosed with cancer and the pair moved to Colorado.
He returned to the Elm City last year when his wife secured a fellowship at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Now, Winter works at Catalyst Cooperative, a worker-owned organization that advocates for climate and energy policy in the public’s interest.
Winter said he became more interested in becoming politically engaged after President Donald Trump’s victory last fall. He also noted that he was specifically interested in serving in the Elm City.
“I really wanted to give back to the city that gave me so much,” Winter said.
In addition to policing, Winter hopes to spend his term focusing on education and creating safe streets.
Despite Winter’s past few months of outreach, more than a dozen Ward 21 constituents interviewed by the News said they know little about local politics.
On Wednesday afternoon strolls through Farnam Memorial and Prospect Gardens, most city residents interviewed said they were either unsure of their alder’s name or did not vote in Tuesday’s election. “Winter and Williams? Who?” said one woman, bundled in a plaid button-up jacket outside a convenience store.
But that general lack of knowledge did not stop Newhallville residents from reflecting on the changes they would like their alders effect in the neighborhood.
“Safety is my biggest concern,” said Mary Liu, a New Haven resident who moved here from China two months ago. “I hear that this neighborhood is dangerous at night. My friends say it’s dangerous. We need to fix that reputation.”
But other, more long-term community members interviewed said Newhallville has increased in safety over the past decade and are optimistic about their neighborhood’s trajectory. One resident said her biggest concern was how approachable the new alder would be.
“Sometimes the alders just make remarks,” she said. “They are supposed to be available for problems like assault. They should tell us what they’re working toward, but they don’t. Instead they just try to be cutesy and aren’t really approachable.”
The current Ward 21 alder is Brenda Foskey-Hill.
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Correction, Nov. 13: This story incorrectly wrote that Winter started a small painting company in New Haven after graduating when in fact he started the company as an undergraduate student at Yale.